Guest Contributed by Kelly Hoey
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates attributed their success to one factor. According to Buffett biographer Alice Schroeder, in 1991 when Bill Gates’ dad asked Buffett and Gates what the most important factor for their success was, they both gave the same answer, “FOCUS.”
Focus always comes before success.
Steve Jobs, no slouch in the success department himself, said that
“it’s only by saying No that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”
Success is not possible without a clear focus on what matters most and the ability to concentrate your energy, thought and capital. In other words, a key to success is learning to say NO. No to personal and professional invites, business networking events, conferences, industry get-togethers, meetups. All the things you instinctively want to say yes to. I know it’s hard to say no – you feel guilty, you don’t want to disrespect the host, you want to look like a team player, you feel like you’ll miss out on something interesting or you’re afraid that if you say NO you’ll never be invited again.
But here’s the key: Ask yourself if that event you’re thinking about attending today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow. By staying focused on where you’re headed, you’ll be able to figure out whether saying no will get you further ahead or is simply an excuse that’s holding you back.
2015 was my year of no. I said no to pretty much everything as I was singularly focused on getting a book deal. This project needed my undivided attention, so no it was. I needed to focus and didn’t want distractions. Did I miss opportunities? Maybe. But saying no at this juncture of my career was the right thing to do. That has not always been the case. Saying no at other points in my career would have been a career-killer.
When entrepreneur Rachel Hofstetter was growing her business, she knew the strength of her network was dependent on her selectively and strategically saying yes. Rachel founded Guesterly (acquired in 2015 by photo-book subscription service Chatbooks) an on-line service which extends the warm hand of the host by connecting guests before a big event.
She focused her networking efforts by keeping both long-term and shorter-term goals in mind. When she was getting ready to raise investment money, Rachel prioritised attending investor and start-up-focused events. When she moved to a new city, she found herself attending every type of event she could, in order to meet people. Expanding her network was why she accepted every invitation and checked out every event, rather than turning them down. When she launched Guesterly into the wedding market (an industry where she previously knew no one), she attended every wedding-industry-related event she could find, in order to figure out exactly where she needed to focus her networking efforts.
At this point in her career, she knew not to say no. She knew that her network mattered just as much as the quality of her work. If someone asked if she wanted to head to happy hour- yes. Grab a group lunch? Yes. Those people moved around jobs and industries and that network made introductions that led her somewhere amazing.
So, yes, there are networking opportunities you should never say no to, especially in the workplace. Universally saying you will never attend networking events at work is—not to be too dramatic here—career suicide. Never say no to opportunities to get to know your peers and colleagues.
Job pressures and competition keep too many of us in our cubicles from the moment we step off the elevator to the minute we run out the door. One Wall Street investment banker I knew regularly ordered in pizza for his group, as a way to bring the team together. This was no “free” lunch: pizza was ordered (and he happily paid for it each week) on the condition that no one could eat alone. It doesn’t take much to break down communication barriers and build team rapport. In twenty minutes you can accomplish more than consuming a slice or two of pizza— you can build relationships.
You need to be strategic and sometimes rather selective in which work-related networking events you choose to attend, but don’t apply a universal no to opportunities to share your knowledge with colleagues beyond the radius of your cubicle, or to being further informed of developments in your chosen profession.
There are many, many, many ways to limit your career opportunities; take “no to networking” off that list.
Disclaimer: The opinions and views of our Guest contributors are not necessarily those of theglasshammer.com